Interview: Ricky Powell
Photos: Janette Beckman
Janette’s a good one. She’s always been on a high level as far as skill and professionalism. Janette Beckman shot the punk scene (and other genres) in the ’70s and the early hip-hop scene in the ’80s.
I got called a curmudgeon recently by two different people.
I can see that. You could be curmudgeonly.
Really? I like it.
It’s a tough word to spell. It’s a little Old English.
I texted my boy Edan Portnoy. I was like, “Yo, how do you spell that word ‘curmudgeon’?” He sent me back the info just now. It sounded a little fudgy, but…
No, it’s nothing to do with fudging. Sorry.
What does “fudging” mean to you? Because you’re from England. You’re across the pond.
You want me to really explain it?
Uh-oh. It’s about to get open.
I know what you want me to tell you, but I’ll tell you something else just to shut you up.
You’re a dirty old lady.
You’re a legend—
I haven’t finished yet.
—but you’re dirty.
“Fudge” is this brown chocolate or caramel candy made often by old ladies in England.
What, you mean at the Cadbury factory?
Something like that. So I know that’s not what you think it is, but we’ve got to keep it clean, Rick.
No, we don’t. Fuck that. This is an inside, intimate conversation.
If you’re a woman in hip-hop, you have to keep your reputation. Like the time when NWA wanted me to do a reading on one of the songs they were recording.
No shit. They brought you into the studio?
They were recording and I went in to take a picture and they said, “Oh, we like your English accent.”
Ooh shit. That’s ill.
Yeah. That’s ill. And I was like, “Oh, OK. You want me to read something? That’s so cool.” Then I read what they wanted me to read, which was their idea of instructions on how to do the perfect blowjob—that was going to be read in my English accent—at which point I stood up. “I got my reputation to keep as an upstanding British woman.” But in retrospect perhaps I should have done it. That was way back in 1990.
Looking back, you should have done it. But that’s alright. I hear where you’re coming from.
Was that your first question?
We have no formulation.
Oh, I thought you said you had questions. Anyway…go ahead.
I do. Look what I have at the top of the list: “I love your style,” and, “You’re an award-winning photographer.”
Thank you very much.
And I’m attracted to the street shots especially, how you hooked them up, and who you got to pose for you. Just to name a few off the top: Pete Townshend, Sex Pistols, the Clash…. Was it strictly a music love of yours, or did you stretch a little bit to like Vivian Westwood and the fashion and art or whatnot?
It wasn’t just the bands; I always liked to take pictures of the fans, the kids that were hanging around. That was the most important thing for me.
Very genius! I used to film a lot of fans at Beasties shows.
They’re the most interesting people, right?
Yeah, at Beasties shows they must have been incredible.
I used to like looking at the fans and the way people dressed. The culture, the dancing, the art, all of that stuff, as well as the bands. And let’s face it, the fans could be in the bands in five minutes in those days, because that’s the way it went, right?
Well, one minute you’re watching Madness, the next minute you’re up there dancing on stage, and the next minute you’re traveling with the band and you’re the dancer or whatever. And then maybe you had your own band. You didn’t really need to play music because it was punk. You’d pick up a guitar, you’d start thrashing around a little bit. You were making it up as you went along.
One time I jumped up on stage with Trouble Funk at the Palladium in ’85. They looked at me like I was out of my mind. I didn’t even get close to anything. The big fat dude playing bass on the end, he looked at me like—
—“What the hell are you doing?”
Yeah. I just kind of meekly went down.